Dear Malcolm,

I’ve noticed lately things having been going so well, so here’s some gratuitous advice.

  1. Cheer up. So you’re getting clobbered in the polls and the Government is riding high. You can’t control political cycles. But things could be worse. Hell, imagine if you’d beaten Peter Coleman in 1981. You would’ve spent your political career in the Hawke-Keating years, rather than making a motza and beating up on British cabinet secretaries. Others, most notably John Howard, have gone through darker valleys of the shadow of political death and emerged into the sunny uplands of… etc etc. And yeah, I know Howard had nothing else better to do and you do, but that’s beside the point. And anyway, your wit, intelligence and eloquence make you the most compelling and enjoyable figure on the political stage. After Julia Gillard.
  2. Hang in there. It’s a funny old game, you got to be in it to win it, luck’s a lottery etc etc. Seriously, we’re in unprecedented times, and things could change very rapidly. Surging unemployment, some doubt in the Government’s collective mind, another Defence stuff-up — and suddenly we’ll be talking about your recovery.
  3. Get a new deputy. Kevin Rudd has got Julia Gillard. It’s like the Government has Yoda and Mace Windu. One’s smart but completely incomprehensible, the other’s cool and chops mother-ckers’ heads off. In comparison, you’ve got the Jedi librarian. Okay so it’s not in your gift and Liberal leaders have come a cropper before over the choice of deputy. And you haven’t got a Gillard, but you can do better than Ms Bishop. You need a Victorian, because Hockey’s got the shadow Treasurership. You need someone who provides a contrast with you in terms of image. You need someone who is loyal, has substance and a brain and can tap into the Victorian business community. You know who I’m talking about. Get Andrew Robb to take some media training lessons so he doesn’t say “you know” all the time and is punchier at the Dispatch Box and it will put some wind in your sails.
  4. Give Simon Birmingham a gig. The bloke is streets ahead of most of your shadow ministers in terms of intelligence and capacity to explain an issue. He is a future star of the party. You can’t afford to keep talent like that idle, regardless of factionalism.
  5. Ditto Fiona Nash. Why is Luke Hartsuyker in the shadow ministry and she isn’t? She’s the most intelligent Nat by a country (sorry) mile. She’s served her sentence for crossing the floor, now let her back in the ministry. Hartsuyker can always get a gig in the next remake of Kung Fu.
  6. Stop being so negative. Would it kill you to endorse the Government once in a while? Just pick an issue, any issue, doesn’t matter what, and say “we think it’s a good idea”. At the moment all the public see is you whingeing and saying you’ll oppose things. When a Government is this popular, you are giving yourself a slap in the face every time you do it.
  7. Start thinking laterally. This has been the biggest disappointment of your leadership. If nothing else, we thought, at least you’d surprise the Government by developing innovative policy ideas, while the Prime Minister is stuck plodding through his White Papers and multiple reviews. But waiting for Kevin Andrews to finish this policy review is like waiting for Godot. The green carbon stuff was excellent — so we could debate the merits of it, but it briefly shifted the agenda in your favour. Why was it a one-off? More please, lots more.
  8. Send some Easter gifts. For Tony Abbott, some gaffer tape for his mouth. For Christopher Pyne, a nice bottle of something. Pyne hasn’t made a dent on Julia Gillard — nothing short of a missile would do that — but he’s got under her skin. She went to the trouble the other day of putting out a press release devoted entirely to bagging him. Anything that distracts the Power Fox is a good thing. And send a cheque for $100,000 to the Federal party, as a little memory-jogger of what they’ll lose if someone else is running the show.
  9. Speaking of which, stop worrying about Peter Costello. You’re his superior in every way — hell, in three years you achieved what he couldn’t in 17: the leadership of the party. He won’t have the guts to challenge, and if things are so bad that the party wants to turn to him, there’s no point in hanging around anyway. Every time he opens his mouth he reveals what a lazy, shallow man he is. Oh, and three words: Catch The Fire.
  10. You’re the best your party has got. It’s Mission: Impossible to beat this Government, but you’re conservative Australia’s best hope. If you can’t do it, no one else can. And relax. You’re sounding shrill and unhappy. Take a break, give your staff a rest. As Opposition Leader you can do that, whereas the PM cannot. The country needs an effective opposition and you’re it.